Abercrombie and Fitch fired a Muslim woman, Hani Khan, for wearing her hijab at work because they claimed that her wearing a headscarf could hurt business. Khan filed and won her discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie and Fitch in federal court. This lawsuit arose just a few years after another discrimination suit against the company for not hiring a girl who wore a hijab to her interview. The company has an appearance or “look” policy, which does not allow wearing head coverings. Khan was hired wearing her hijab. She was aware of and accepted the appearance policy, but her manager did not prevented from wearing her hijab as long as it matched the stores colors. Unfortunately a few months after she began working at the store, a district manager told Khan that she would only be allowed to keep working at the San Mateo, California store if she stopped wearing her hijab. A federal court judge ruled that the company violated federal discrimination law when it failed to make reasonable accommodation for its employee’s religious belief.
Protection of Religious Beliefs and Practices
State and federal law protect employees against religious discrimination in the workplace. An employee’s religious beliefs and practices should not affect his or her ability to be hired, promoted, fired, or any other aspect of employment. These laws also extend to protect against discriminatory treatment of an employee based on the religious beliefs of the employee’s spouse. The primary requirement for protection of one’s religious beliefs is that the beliefs must be sincerely held. This means that the law protects all religions; however, less “mainstream” religions may have a heavier burden in proving the validity of the practice. For instance, a Pastafarian man in New Jersey was not allowed to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver’s license photo because the strainer was not covered by the religious exception, even though he claimed to hold his beliefs as strongly as any other religious person and the pasta strainer is a well-known symbol for Pastafarians. If a company has no headwear policy, a Pastafarian may have to go to court to get religious accommodations that would allow that person to wear a strainer during business hours, but that does not mean that the person could not get an accommodation.
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious beliefs and practices, but the accommodations cannot create an undue hardship for the employer. This means that a company would be required to allow religious headwear, but only so long as it does not create a hazard in the workplace or endanger the employee. Or an employee may request specific days off for religious observances, but if the employer has no one else to cover or accommodate that day of work then the employer may still schedule the employee for that day or allow the employee to take the day off with no pay.
An employer cannot make reasonable accommodations if the employer does not know accommodations need to be made. Additionally, employees can make suggestions as to what accommodations would be best for them. If you have questions about religious discrimination or other employment law issues contact our experienced team of employment law attorneys.